East Crossroads Brewers & Friends Band Together to Promote District

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Lara Gray, co-owner of Casual Animal and leader in the East Crossroads marketing concept.

(Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in CityScene Dec. 3, 2021)

By Kevin Collison

Six years after Border Brewing, its first microbrewery, opened, the East Crossroads and its band of merry brewers, distillers and vintners are touting their area as a big regional draw and working together to promote it.

“We’ve become a tourist destination,” said Lara Gray, co-owner of Casual Animal.  “We see people from all over–Iowa, Nebraska, people who fly here to see family–and they are amazed at how the place has changed.

“This is definitely a location for people to bring family from out of town, and we want that thinking to grow to being top of mind.”

Last month, the nine microbreweries, two distilleries and one vintner who operate in a 12-block area between 17th and 19th streets, from McGee and Campbell, formally incorporated as the East Crossroads Alcohol Producers.

Rather than ECAP, the group is simply branding their area “East Crossroads.”

While the district had been informally tagged the “Neigh-Brew-Hood,” that moniker didn’t include the other alcoholic beverage makers.

The East Crossroads establishments have put together a map as part of their promotion of the Swig & Swag event this weekend. (Map from East Crossroads website)

Today, First Friday, and Saturday will be one of the first joint marketing ventures taken on by the fledgling collaborative. It’s called “Swig & Swag” and will combine a little holiday shopping with some sipping.

Nine of the 11 East Crossroads establishments are hosting makers including Odds and Unfortunate Ends, Bed Fundy, Green Dirt Farms, Shea Made, Dandelion Bake Shop, Effing Candle, Finch Knives, Raven Watches, Shop 90SIX and Kansas City Puzzle Co.

The event runs from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. today and noon to 6 p.m.

The East Crossroads marketing plan is still in its early stages, although a walking map has been produced and distributed to guide visitors.  Members are building a website and expect to launch a logo soon.

They’re also planning to put up street banners to identify the district.

Gray and her husband, Kyle, came to Kansas City from Fort Collins to open Casual Animal at 1725 McGee in late 2017. She says in a few short years, the East Crossroads has become the kind of craft drinking destination as Fort Collins and the Denver RINO District.

“It already was becoming a destination because of how many places decided to set up shop in the area,” she said. “Places you can walk and bike too.”

Just the friendly vibe of the microbrewing industry made it easy for people to decide to work together, she added.

City Barrel Brewing helped launch “Putt Putt Pub Crawl” the first collaborative East Crossroads outing in early 2019.

“We share grain, we share feedback…beer is in an interesting industry because we’re very collaborative with each other. Our shared success is based on the neighborhood’s success.”

One of the first joint events occurred in early 2019 when James Stutson, the owner of City Barrel  Brewing at 1728 Holmes suggested a “Putt Putt Beer Crawl” through the various venues to drum up business during winter.

“It was probably the first time all of us saw our collective strength and what it could do for the neighborhood,” Gray said.

A second “Putt Putt” is planned for this February. Gray also said another shared promotion in the works is an “East Crossroads Punch Card” that will offer deals at the various establishments.

In a few years, the East Crossroads has grown to become a district where more than 100 people are employed and has become an important, homegrown element of the emerging  downtown scene.

“We want people to know that Kansas City is getting on the map when it comes to the quality and extensiveness of its craft beer,” Gray said. “People should be proud of that and celebrate with us.

“We want to be part of the growth of the city in general. For so long, it was known as a flyover place and we’re putting it on the map.”

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